Alright, so maybe this is your second time reading this poignant and beautiful excerpt from Lisa D. Stewart's memoir The Big Quiet. Gold star for you! For those who have not had a chance to read this story about one woman's extended horseback riding trip, you're in for a new treat! Not only does this book recount the exciting 500+ mile adventure of the single experience Stewart waited 50+ years for; it is also a book about the deep inner, geographical, historical, and social reflection we undergo when we do things that are deeply meaningful to us. Have a taste for yourself here, and indulge further when you pick up a copy at our online bookstore!
“I’m headed home.”
Through the phone, I could hear Bob lean back in his chair.
I could picture him surrounded by stacks of paper-clipped, double-spaced manuscripts from unknown, master-of-fine-arts writing students and some of the nation’s most celebrated authors. Sunlight would dapple his desk this time of morning in the 1930s, three-story, Stick Style house, reminiscent of Gothic England, on the university campus. He would leave midday to begin the three-and-a-half-hour drive to find me and bring me supplies. He knew I didn’t mean for him to come get me. I was turning to ride back home. Five hundred miles would be my total.
On the day I confessed my desire to take this trip, I had convinced Bob I would not change; I would want to come home. Bob takes people at face value. When I am sure what I want, and it makes some degree of sense, he delivers, either with acceptance or physical support, as needed.
Bob always has been clear about himself and his work. There is something about his presence, tall, with the vigor of willow, able to sustain the shifting force of politics, religion, society, literature, even university bureaucracy, without becoming boorishly opinion¬ated or self-centered. One of his most common phrases in conversation is, “I don’t know anything, but…” which may be the quality I love in him most, because he does know a lot, and he never presumes. He takes time to formulate his thoughts into words, or crack a joke, which makes him late in the flow of conversation. At dinner parties, I have seen his mouth open with a joke in the pipe-line, when two other people toss in their quips ahead of him. I watch in discouragement as his mouth slowly closes, and he takes another sip of wine. His joke would have been funnier than theirs. At least twice per night, however, he will tuck one in, and the table will explode with laughter, because Bob’s quiet demeanor makes his humor a shock. You have to get to know him.
Bob won’t repeat himself, won’t explain himself, and rarely apologizes, which is why he is deliberate, to avoid the need for inefficient mistakes. On this trip, he used his reserve to reserve judgement. Everything that I had said would come to pass, had, so far. He trusted me. When I told him I was turning back for home, he may already have guessed it, from my call last night, when, after I excitedly described Nathalene and her spring, I worried over the pavement. I no longer would be gone ninety days, and I would see only the western side of the state. That was never mentioned.
My husband was learning what I had discovered thirty years ago in my first journey on horseback: Making X number of miles or arriving at a particular destination along the way was almost always irrelevant to the trip—and inconvenient.
This trip wasn’t about trying to impress anyone; it was about me. Chief and me. Without Bob, none of this would be happening, but it wasn’t about Bob. This strange person I had become, this neutral observer, this feeler of heat and light and energy, was a being outside of the Lisa Bob had married. This was okay, because, for the time being, he had become my neutral helper. For the first time in my life, I had no man to take care of. I had let Bob go in order to ride, to greet, to observe, to record. He listened to my morning raptures and my evening relief. He brought me things.
“I feel myself for the first time in my life,” I had told him on the phone during one of my morning gushes about the beauty of the land. I felt like a man. That was the only way I knew to describe this feeling of mastery and calm, having no such female role models.
There were moments, in the past, when I had felt powerful and capable—as when I rode my motorcycle alone to Washington, D.C., and to Houston on business with a .38 revolver in my breast pocket. Like when I crafted feasibility studies, marketing studies, and business plans for entrepreneurs. I’ve had no powerful female role models to demonstrate how it is a capable woman feels. Emergency has always made me calm and clear-headed. I could lead soldiers into battle, I believe, with the right training. I could drive a bulldozer. I nursed my son twenty-four months and my daughter thirty-three months and felt exactly that powerful and comfortable in doing so, despite modern belief that letting children nurse until they are ready to stop (as most ancients did) is weird. I followed my heart, just as I did when I rode Chief away from his pasture.
Now there was nothing but pavement ahead instead of safe gravel roads, which provided traction and repulsed fast cars. It was one thing to ride on high alert on gravel roads and highway shoulders; but to ride on narrow pavement with nowhere to go when a car popped over a hill was a level of drama I couldn’t justify, even if fourteen days from now I’d be on gravel again. I didn’t come out here to get myself killed.
“I want to see more of this cropland,” I told Bob on the phone. “I haven’t filled up on it yet. I was too busy to see it when I lived here.”
“That’s just great.”
“I’ll call later to let you know a little better where I am. Don’t get here too late.”
“Have fun,” he said.
I had trained him to stop saying be careful.
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